I employ a design-based research perspective to develop practical and theoretical insights concerning learning processes. I specifically focus on the design and development of social media for informal science learning environments. The following questions orient my work, which in turn, is focused around two long-term goals:
- How can the use of design build our capacity for integrating formal and informal education opportunities?
- What forms of public participation and engagement with science are effective in integrating diverse stakeholders in science knowing, learning, and teaching?
Goal One – Support and facilitate formal and informal science education opportunities through the development and evaluation of novel engagement practices.
As an informal science education researcher and educator, I seek to understand how people learn from and through one another in informal learning environments, both in the real world and in the digital one. At the University of Florida, this work is embodied in The FOSSIL Project, an NSF-funded initiative to support connections in the paleontological community through networking paleontologists, both amateur and professional. We seek to integrate the theories of the Contextual Model of Learning with Communities of Practice, investigatingfor whom and under what conditions learning within a domain occurs. Through the iterative development of educative social media, using the social media platforms (“niches”) of Facebook and Twitter, we developed a framework that explicates “engagement” with social media. Our framework characterizes participation and contribution as passive and active means with which to learn paleontology. This work was internationally recognized at the Social Media in Practice Excellence Awards, in which my mentor, Dr. Kent Crippen, and I placed third place in a competitive and diverse field of applicants.
My work in studying novel engagement practices envelopes the real world as well as the digital world in the form studying of public participation in science. Science cafes and outreach events are popular methods for scientists to communicate their research to the public, but they often devolve into one-way dissemination of topics. In 2016, I conducted research with Community Chats, a grant internally funded by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Our pilot study consisted of hosting events in which scientists discussed issues related to climate change and public health with public audiences. Through exploring novel engagement methods, our research seeks to move science outreach events from one-way dissemination incidents to two-way dialogues with community members and scientists.
Goal Two – Develop and investigate methods for examining social learning from a networked perspective.
I approach learning from the perspective that learning is social. I use social network analysis, text analysis, and content analysis to investigate through whom, for whom, and under what conditions learning occurs. An ongoing research project for FOSSILis using software such as NodeXL and cloud-based programs like Netlytic to examine the ways in which knowledge flows through the paleontological community. Our results show that the conduits of communication differ across context: within each niche of the digital habitat, unique actors participate in and contribute to knowledge creation. Using innovate, technology-mediated methods to understand who composes a learning network allows us to connect learners more deeply to one another, enhancing social learning processes.